Alcoholism Tied to Lower Brain Links

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Chronic alcoholism is a compulsive consumption of any alcohol beverages. It is also a dependent use of alcohol in everyday living. This condition doesn’t only affects physical health but rather even social and psychological wellness. People suffering from alcoholism are often called “alcoholics”. Alcoholism is being exemplified by increased tolerance of and physical dependence on alcohol, affecting an individual’s ability to control alcohol consumption safely.

A study shows that chronic alcoholism may lead to a weakened relationship between the frontal lobe and cerebellar activity in those who are recently abstinent. Fronto-cerebellar functional connectivity, measured by the results of a finger-tapping exercise while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), was lower in alcohol-dependent patients than in healthy controls, Baxter P. Rogers, PhD, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues found. This decline was specific to the fronto-cerebellar circuits. The connectivity between prefrontal and premotor cortex and several non-cerebellar control regions was not different between the alcoholic patients and controls, the researchers reported in the February 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The cerebellum is responsible in balance perception of an individual while the frontal lobe of the brain has several functions. These include memory, judgment, and decision –making process, analysis and primary play a major role in motor and speech. The Broca’s area or the center of speech expression is also found at the frontal lobe.

“Evidence from brain autopsy studies indicates that the cerebellum is most susceptible to brain injury associated with chronic alcohol consumption and associated malnutrition.” noted by the author even though the connection between chronic alcoholism and neuro-cognitive disorder is vague. Furthermore, findings from brain MRI and spectroscopy studies imply a link between cerebellar damage due to chronic alcohol exposure and frontal lobe abnormalities.

Exploring the issue further, the authors studied 10 right-handed, uncomplicated chronic alcohol-dependent patients following five to seven days’ abstinence after signs of withdrawal had diminished. Participants were matched for age and gender, but not smoking, with 10 healthy right-handed controls recruited from the Vanderbilt campus. The researchers used functional MRI (fMRI) to analyze the connectivity between cerebellar and cortical brain regions, focusing on prefrontal, frontal, temporal, and parietal cortex regions that showed an fMRI response associated with nondominant hand finger-tapping in patients but not controls. Comparing patient results with those of the controls derived “seed regions” (areas that exhibited activation during finger-tapping in patients but not in controls) of the brain. The targets were defined from a connectivity map of the corresponding seed. Connectivity between seed and target regions was generally significant within each group (P<0.05). The exceptions seen among the patients were in connectivity between the right prefrontal seed and Lobule VI, and the right prefrontal seed and Lobule VIII. Premotor-cerebellar connectivity was considerably weaker in both the right (P=0.01) and left (P=0.03) Lobule VI in the superior cerebellum of patients. Prefrontal-cerebellar connectivity was significantly weaker in patients for the right Lobule VIII in the inferior cerebellum (P=0.04) with a tendency toward weakness for left Lobule VIII (P=0.19).

“Our findings show a pattern in recently abstinent alcoholics of specific deficits in functional connectivity and recruitment of additional brain regions for performance of a simple finger-tapping task,” wrote the authors. “A small sample, differences in smoking, and a brief abstinence period preclude definitive conclusions, but this pattern is highly compatible with the characteristic neuropathological lesions documented in alcoholics and may reflect brain dysfunction associated with alcoholism.”, explained more by the researchers.

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